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Column 1185France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden have no upper limit in extremis cases of the kind that we are talking about. We are talking about a limited number of cases.
One other country which has no other upper time limit is Scotland. The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who is the Father of the House, wisely declined to become entangled in the Scottish case. I assure him that that matter is highly relevant. The Infant Life (Preservation) Act never applied to Scotland, not even after 1967. That means that, within the kingdom, we have an example of a country whose abortion law has no upper time limit. That has certainly not been abused, because in 1988 there were seven abortions over 22 weeks and in 1989 there were five. We are talking about a small number of extremely tragic cases where desperate decisions have to be made by the medical profession.
In that connection I deplore the circular that was put round by the promoters of the amendment. It is by two gentlemen in University college, Oxford. Paragraph 3 says :
"If abortion on any of the four grounds results in the delivery of a living and viable foetus, it will be lawful to destroy it during birth for any reason at all, from harelip to hair colour." That is a gross calumny on the medical profession. I do not think that anyone practising medicine in Britain would destroy a baby during birth because the colour of the hair was wrong.
I shall end by quoting from Mr. David Paintin, reader in obstetrics and gynaecology at St. Mary's hospital. He was one of the original medical advisers on my team in 1967. He now says about the proposal that is before us :
"There are few circumstances in which abortion is necessary after the 24th week ; there were only 23 cases notified in this country in 1988. Most such abortions are performed because the foetus has been shown to have an abnormality that would prevent sustained life after birth or that would result in gross handicap. A small number of such abortions are induced because the woman is gravely ill and her health would be permanently harmed or she might die if the pregnancy continued. In these cases the foetus is so immature or so affected by the illness in the woman that it would not survive. If the foetus is mature enough to have a reasonable chance of survival with modern intensive care, all possible steps are taken to optimise the survival of both mother and foetus ; delivery is normally by caesarian section."
He concludes :
"A proper ethical attitude to abortion must take into account the potential humanity of the foetus"--
that was the basic principle of the 1967 Act--
"but must also consider the humanity of the woman and the circumstances which, in her view and her doctors' view, make continuation of the pregnancy inadvisable. I believe that it is wrong to force the woman to continue the pregnancy to the serious detriment of her health or to force her to carry a foetus that is severely abnormal. The sensible decisions taken by Parliament in April clarify and improve the law. In my experience, women and doctors agree that abortion after the 24th week should be performed only in the most exceptional circumstances."
I believe that the House should rest by the decision that we have taken.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) : I rise to speak to amendments Nos. 29 and 30. Amendment No. 30 would clarify the law in relation to selective reduction. The present position, as I understand it, is that it is not clear beyond doubt whether that procedure comes within the terms of the Abortion Act 1967. Some people agree that if after selective reduction a pregnancy continues, that cannot be a termination of pregnancy within the meaning of the 1967 Act. The counter argument is that the procedure constitutes a miscarriage and that it must therefore be done under the protection of the Act. The medical literature abounds with legal cases and learned articles from lawyers trying to argue the problem through. It is clear that there is significant doubt and it is essential that that is removed. The selective reduction procedure was neither in use nor even contemplated when the legislation introduced by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) was passed in 1967. However, I understand that the procedure has been in use in Britain since 1982. It involves terminating one or more foetuses in a multiple pregnancy. That procedure may be used for a number of reasons. For example, some selective reductions are done because one or more of the foetuses has been diagnosed as having a seriously handicapping condition. In other cases it may be done because carrying a high order multiple pregnancy to term may jeopardise all the foetuses or the woman's life or health. Whether it is appropriate to carry out a selective reduction is, in the last analysis, a matter for the clinical judgment of the doctor and the wishes of the woman concerned. I understand that the number of cases is likely to be small.
My explanation has been brief. I hope that whatever moral or ethical stance we take on abortion, we can accept the importance of clarity and that the procedure should be brought within the ambit of the 1967 Act and the controls that it provides.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South) : I take the firm view that amendment No. 4, on which I want to concentrate, is thoroughly misconceived, certainly in the way in which it was presented by the right hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). It is also deliberately disingenuous because it is nothing more than an attempt to reverse a decision of the House taken by an emphatic majority in a way which is a mystery to me as a relatively new hon. Member.
We have already heard several hon. Members complain about the large number of voters on that night who were apparently misled or who misled themselves. I have never heard of such a thing from hon. Members. One of the major problems that struck me when I first came to the House was the arrogance of hon. Members who felt that they could do no wrong and always thought that they knew what they were doing ; that Parliament, in its great wisdom, is always supreme. Yet here we have a large number of hon. Members bowing before the House and admitting to the commission of a supreme error- -that they voted the wrong way because they did not understand measures properly. I wonder what their constituents will think when they are faced with legislation and issues much more complex than this, on which the majority of hon. Members have strong views, as all the debates on the issue have shown. No hon. Member can make a greater sacrifice than to admit his fallibility, as so many have done. But
Column 1187they are not lowering the ego quotient in this place ; it is simply a desperate attempt to reverse an emphatic decision of the House, and it should be seen in that light.
What saddens me about the efforts that have been made to reverse the votes on 24 April is the way in which many arguments have been perverted. Few of the arguments that we heard from the right hon. Member for Selby and those who support him have rested on fact. I have a copy of the paper that was referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, which purports to be a legal opinion from John Finnis, professor of law and legal philosophy, university of Oxford, and Dr. John Keown lecturer in law and co-director of the centre for health care law at the university of Leicester. I am a solicitor and well used to reading legal opinions and I am appalled at the content of that paper, which I understand was circulated to all hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Tweedale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) has already taken issue with part of it.
It is important to look at the paper, to assess the arguments with which it presents us. For example, it is suggested in the first paragraph that an interpretation of the clause that was passed by the House on 24 April would allow abortion until birth in a wide range of cases, markedly altering the existing law, which allows the destruction of a viable foetus only to save the mother's life. Only the most asinine of lawyers would interpret in that way a clause that is specific about the legal requirements before it is permitted to operate.
For example, according to clause 34(1)(b), it must be shown "that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman". That is a severe legal test, as are the other tests. Clause 34(1)(c) says :
"that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated".
That again is an extremely serious legal test, and if any doctor failed to satisfy it, he could be prosecuted. Finally, clause 34(1)(d) says :
"that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped."
Doctors operating in that area know of the attempts to examine their work by the so-called pro-life or, as I prefer to call them, anti-abortion organisations. Their work has been handicapped. I do not want to attack the integrity of our medical profession, which is what the right hon. Member for Selby and his supporters have done. They do an excellent job in difficult circumstances. It is sometimes a difficult and tasteless job. But to make their job that much more difficult by suggesting that the medical profession would willy-nilly ignore those strict provisions in the Bill, which I hope will become an Act, is unacceptable and a smear on the medical profession. For example, it is suggested in the paper that some doctors will interpret the onerous conditions that apply to them as including a hare lip or a cleft palate. That is pure scaremongering, which is appalling coming from a professor of law and a lecturer in law.
Mr. Alton : My right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) refused to give way on that point, and as it has been cited a second time, it is important to clarify it. Doctors at Guy's hospital recently advertised for mothers who would otherwise be
Column 1188having abortions on grounds of cleft palate to come forward in order to carry out operations in the womb. As much as we may be grateful for progress in medical science, does not the hon. Gentleman accept that if those are the sort of reasons being given by doctors for performing abortions, it is perfectly acceptable for Professor Finnis to quote them in his letter?
Mr. Doran : It is perfectly acceptable for Professor Finnis to quote such examples in context. However, we have instead the bald statement that in the view of that learned professor, the justification for terminating pregnancies is being interpreted in the way that he suggests. That is unacceptable, and his paper bears little resemblance to what I suppose was meant to be an objective assessment of how the Bill will operate. The paper goes on : "If abortion on any of the four grounds results in the delivery of a living and viable foetus, it would be lawful to destroy it during birth for any reason at all, from harelip to hair colour." That is an outrageous statement from practising lawyers, let alone a professor of law at one of our principal universities.
I am not sure what is intended by that alleged interpretation, but if an aborted foetus is found to be alive and is by medical opinion thought capable of sustained survival and is effectively viable, then I as a lawyer should have no hesitation is saying that the destruction of that foetus would be criminal.
Scaremongering of the type that I quoted, by two apparently respectable individuals, is outrageous and has produced a contrary response in me.
Mr. Doran : My hon. Friend says that they should be reported, but it is unlikely that either of those two gentlemen has even practised real law. Certainly there is no suggestion of that in the opinion that I quoted.
As the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale pointed out, the medical profession has adapted to the 1967 Act as it has progressed, and the Scottish experience is worth bearing in mind and examining. Any lawyer offering an opinion should look at current practice, particularly when it is so close to home.
I circulated a paper written by one of my constituents, Professor Allan Templeton, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology in Aberdeen. I shall read out part of his paper because it is important to record the professional medical view on a provision similar to that passed on 24 April, which I hope will become law. It has operated in Scotland since 1967.
It is not a case of widespread abuse of the 1967 Act, of abortions being performed willy nilly, on request, and of reasons for them being invented afterwards. It is not a case either of abortions being performed for trivial reasons--and the suggestion that they have occurred because of the risk of cleft palates or hare lips is intended to trivialise the medical decision. Instead, it is a case of establishing a body of principle related to the obligations that a medical practitioner has to his patients and to the law of the land, which is currently the Abortion Act 1967. Professor Templeton says :
Column 1189"It has been accepted in obstetric practice for some time that pregnancy should be terminated, regardless of the gestation, if the mother's life is at risk. Such a situation is not infrequent in obstetric practice, associated with such conditions as pre- eclampsia, abruption and placenta praevia. Similarly, it is accepted that the diagnosis of a lethal foetal abnormality is, if the mother so desires, an indication to terminate the pregnancy, regardless of the gestation. The classification of the procedure can vary. For example, we recently terminated a pregnancy"--
at Aberdeen royal infirmary--
"of 27 weeks' gestation, at the mother's wish, because of the diagnosis of renal agenesis, a condition which results in absence of the kidneys and is incompatible with life This is a clear example of current recognition that the age of viability is somewhat less than 28 weeks, and probably nearer to 24 weeks. The point here is that doctors have developed self-imposed guidelines that have emerged from their experience of current clinical practice. Thus, the perception has grown that it would be quite inappropriate for a variety of reasons to terminate pregnancies approaching the age of viability for reasons other than where the mother's life is at risk or there is a lethal"--
and Professor Templeton emphasises lethal--
"foetal abnormality. This self-imposed, unwritten code of practice is evident on scrutiny of recent figures."
Professor Templeton gives figures for the number of late terminations in 1987, 1988 and 1989. In 1987, there were in Scotland 11 terminations over 22 weeks ; in 1988, seven terminations ; and in 1989, five terminations. That is not a story of abuse of the law or of an apparent latitude that the measure passed on 24 April will allow elsewhere in Britain.
The law is being observed responsibly, and that will continue. I have no reason to believe that doctors in England and Wales are any less responsible than those in Scotland. For that reason, I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will oppose amendment No. 4 and will base their decision on how to vote on the facts--and not in response to the scaremongering tactics that have been evident so far today.
Miss Widdecombe : I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this group of amendments and to my own amendment No. 28. The law currently states that a doctor should abort on the ground of disability only if the child runs a substantial risk of having a disability and if the disability itself is serious, yet there is no method of checking on the various disabilities that are the reasons why abortions are performed. When an abortion is undertaken the forms that are returned often show that it was performed not because of a disability but for a different reason. If we are to draw a distinction between handicapped and healthy children, the time has come for a ready check on the disabilities that are deemed to be so severe that the child is to be killed after viability and not be allowed to survive.
When the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)--who on this occasion is my hon. Friend--moved his original Bill, he clearly stated that there was evidence that doctors were aborting in the case of harelip, cleft palate or club foot. At that time, we were not debating abortions for disability up to birth but abortions within the limits of the 1929 Act. When the hon. Member for Mossley Hill made those statements, he was ridiculed. The same sort of reply was given then as we heard tonight--that such claims are a slur on the medical profession, which would never do such a thing. However, there is no
Column 1190means of extracting from the Secretary of State for Health whether such a practice would arise, because there is no obligation in an abortion to submit to the Secretary of State a clear definition of the disability involved.
In case anyone doubts that abortions have been carried out for the reasons cited by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill I will refer to a letter that I received from Anthony Rowsell, a consultant plastic surgeon at Guy's hospital, who is responsible for performing the pre-natal surgery, for which we are all very grateful, on unborn children with minor deformities. He wrote in defence of his work because he misunderstood my remarks in Committee, thinking that I was attacking pre-natal surgery. He informs me that mothers not only have abortions but that they are routinely offered. That should be a cause of worry because the legislation says that abortions should not be offered routinely in the case of minor defects but that there should be a substantial risk of serious disability.
If, as hon. Members on the other side of the argument frequently contend, the medical profession has nothing to hide, and the Act is working well, there could be no possible objection to asking the profession to tell us how often it routinely aborts for a minor defect. If we have a requirement that the nature of the disability should be specified on the form, we shall be able to see whether doctors are aborting for spina bifida, hydrocephalus and cystic fibrosis or for harelip and club foot. I cannot see any objection to giving that information.
If the House tonight confirms its decision--I sincerely hope and believe that it will not--that we are going to abort for disability until birth, even if the circumstances are rare, we have a sovereign duty, not merely a right, to check on the nature of the disability which is the reason for the abortion being carried out.
Ms. Harman : I intervene on the point that the hon. Lady made about Guy's hospital. I am not familiar with the letter that the plastic surgeon wrote to her, but I presume that he is not in the regional genetic investigation department, which is run from the hospital. Guy's serves many of my constituents, and I had my babies there. For my last pregnancy I had amniocentesis and I went through the entire counselling procedure. It was never suggested to me that the discovery of an abnormality such as harelip or club foot should be grounds for considering a termination. It was made clear to me, as a patient, that the object of counselling and investigation was to discover whether there was a serious abnormality. In the process they might discover minor abnormalities, but that would not mean counselling for an abortion. The hon. Lady should be careful before she continues in that vein.
Miss Widdecombe : I shall be careful, because I have ample evidence, including that letter from Guy's, which I have in my hand, that it is, or was, routine to offer abortion for minor defects. If we need any proof of that, think of the police investigation into the case of the King's college baby. I shall raise that case later when I discuss the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). We know that in that case the disability was not serious, it was not life threatening, it would not cause the child to be crippled, to have restricted physical movement or restricted mental agility. Yet, an abortion--it was not an abortion, but a selective reduction, which is one of our dinky terms for fratricide--was carried out at twenty-seven and half weeks.
Column 1191If the medical profession has nothing to hide, it cannot object to filling in the forms and doing it on time. Why does the Department tolerate a situation in which more than 300 of those forms were returned more than six months late in the past year?
Mr. Thurnham rose--
I shall now turn to the important amendment, No. 4, tabled in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison). I regret the passing of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 from the Abortion Act. I should like to digress briefly before you call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on what I believe to be one of the most serious effects of removing that Act--now, for the first time since 1929, we have no long-term law in place.
One of the greatest achievements of the 1929 Act was that it was drawn up when medical science was nothing like it is now, and the Act stood the test of 60 years. The reason why it stood the test of time was that it was drawn up with a long-term view in mind. It did not give 28 weeks as a limit for abortion. It said that 28 weeks was a rebuttable presumption. The guiding principle of the 1929 Act was the capability of a child to be born alive. As viability came down gradually from 28 weeks to 24 weeks, children between the ages of 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy effectively enjoyed the protection of the 1929 Act.
I mention that fact to the Secretary of State because it is important that the point is not overlooked during the debate. It is a pity that the amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) was not selected, and it is important that his argument is not overlooked. If, in two years' time, the medical profession turns round and says, "We have improved incubation techniques to such an extent that we can now keep alive 40 per cent. of 22-week-olds and a few more 23-week-olds", what protection will there be in law for them?
Mr. Kenneth Clarke : I am sure that the hon. Lady understands that no one has repealed the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. The only effect of what the House has done is that the Act does not now apply to cases provided for by the Abortion Act. The effect of the amendment is to apply two pieces of legislation to the same operation, in some cases with very confusing results. The House voted before for the Abortion Act to have limits, or no limits, and for those cases to disapply the Infant Life (Preservation) Act. The Act still applies to non-Abortion Act cases.
If the hon. Lady's second question was "What will happen if medical science moves on," if the Royal College of Obstetrlcians and Gynaecologists agrees that 24 weeks is too high a limit, the House could come back and review the Abortion Act limit which we have just set in the light of medical knowledge. That does not mean that we would start applying two Acts and reducing them both. The Infant Life (Preservation) Act has been set aside for Abortion Act cases, largely to ensure that there is clarity in the law, in line with the votes which the House cast last time on the Abortion Act limits.
Column 1192have to come back to the House to decide again. I thought that the purpose of the grievous dissension and wrangling in the past few months was a clear long-term law, so that it would not be necessary to have such parliamentary upheaval at regular intervals. If we do that, surely it is essential to build in a legal protection so that we do not have to come back to say, "Look, the situation has changed."
As a result of the decoupling of the Acts, the House has inadvertently removed protection from viable children under the 24th week, removed long- term law and made it certain that, at some time, we shall have to return to the vexed business of time limits. I certainly do not think that that is desirable, and I have said so in public on numerous occasions.
All hon. Members should understand that that is the effect of removing the Infant Life (Preservation) Act. I appreciate that it has not been repealed, but decoupled, and I do not want to be critical of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, because he and his Department have been most helpful in the past few months, assisting us with whether an issue was valid or technically cohesive. However, for the past year I have issued challenge after challenge about the observation of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act. For example, why was a lethal injection given if there was no possibility that a child could be born alive in the first place? I gave several other instances. The Secretary of State admitted that it did not work particularly well. Instead of tightening up and policing the Act properly, his answer to the failure of difficulties in observing the Infant Life (Preservation) Act was to remove the Act altogether.
Amendment No. 4 decouples the Infant Life (Preservation) Act in respect of abortions carried out under 24 weeks. However, my hon. Friend's point is irrelevant. The amendment maintains the position--which is not as troublesome as she claims--that as medical science moves on, the House will reduce the limit from 24 weeks. However, her amendment still decouples the Act. She is using the Act to introduce confusion into the law by making the Infant Life (Preservation) Act and the Abortion Act both apply above 24 weeks in certain cases and 28 weeks in others.
I said at the beginning of my speech that it was digressing a little to refer to babies under 24 weeks' gestation, but I want to get it clearly on record that there is no longer long-term protection for them.
Let me examine what we have agreed in regard to disability. I do not want to discuss again whether there was confusion. Although hon. Members may have understood clearly enough the instructions and description of any particular amendment, the interdependency and interrelationship between various amendments became more
Column 1193difficult to work out. When they decoupled the Infant Life (Preservation) Act, they thought that, under the guidance of the Secretary of State, they were simplifying a difficult legal situation and producing an administrative device to make things tidier rather than, as a result of the previous failure to write in limits, removing completely any protection for disabled children right up to birth.
When I introduced my Bill I was quite happy to exempt disability, as did the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) when he presented his Bill. But we did not mean that we would exempt disability up to birth ; we meant that we would exempt it up to the limit of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act. The removal of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act effectively meant that there would be exemption up to birth.
I feel very strongly about the matter, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), and I shall take an intervention from him in a moment. However, it is a gross insult that disabled people could switch on their televisions and radio at any hour of the day or night during the past few months and hear politicians arguing about whether they have the right to be born. We would not offer that insult to any racial or religious group, so we should not offer it to disabled people. It is wrong.
When a disabled child is born, that child has the full protection of the law. It does not matter how gross the disability, how handicapped the child embarks on life or how grievous are the effects of that handicap on the mother and the family. At that point the child has the full protection of the law. However, a few hours or even a few minutes earlier, according to the letter of the law, the child does not have that protection. I have stood up in the House time and again and argued that the right that we extend to a child in an incubator should be extended to a child of identical age in the womb. I never thought that the day would come when I would have to stand here and argue in the House of Commons, the mother of Parliaments and the centre of civilisation, that it is wrong not to extend the same protection to a child a few hours before birth as applies to a child that has been born prematurely and already enjoys the full protection of the law. It is wrong, morally repugnant and an insult to the handicapped.
Mr. Thurnham : My hon. Friend has been issuing challenges and talking about duties. The effect of the amendments would be that more severely handicapped children would be born. My hon. Friend is in favour of more severely handicapped children being born. The other day I heard that she had said that if she had a handicapped relative she would give up her job to look after that person. What is she waiting for? There are thousands of severely handicapped children in institutions whose families cannot look after them. Why does she not adopt one? Is she afraid that a social services committee would not give approval for her to be a mother?
Miss Widdecombe : That last comment shows the degree of desperation prevailing on the other side of the argument. When hon. Members have to resort to personal abuse, it is quite clear that they have no argument. I must tell my normal hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North East that there is a queue of people waiting to adopt
Column 1194Down's syndrome children. Are we now saying that Down's syndrome is a cause for abortion up to birth although there is a queue to adopt those children? That queue consists of couples, not single people like myself who could not provide a father. I believe that the best start in life for handicapped children is to have two parents.
Mr. Alton : I support entirely what the hon. Lady is saying. I reiterate that if the state were not prepared to provide homes for disabled people and if there were no adoptive parents, many people in church and voluntary organisations, including the Bishops of England and Wales, have made it absolutely clear that they would provide homes for any disabled person.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) was somewhat cheap to say the least? He has raised that point during every debate on the subject. I should like to put on record how much I admire and respect his wife who, for seven days a week, cares for their severely handicapped adopted child. However, it does the hon. Gentleman's reputation no good to raise the matter because we know that he is extremely active in the House, in his constituency and as an entrepreneurial business man. So he cannot undertake the very duties that he challenges other hon. Members to undertake.
Many members of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and of LIFE and many others have adopted handicapped children but do not make a public parade of it. They also deserve respect. It is not confined to one side of the argument.
I deal now with the Finnis letter and the statement that it is possible to terminate for disability before birth. The 1929 Act was introduced--as can be checked in the Hansard of the time--precisely to fill the lacuna of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 which did not protect the child during the process of birth. That is on record and is a matter of legal history. I do not draw any pictures of doctors aborting during birth ; I am saying that the 1929 Act filled that lacuna, but the removal of the Act reinstates it. Those who share the views expressed by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill and I will vigorously oppose the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury. Amendment No. 30 proposes to bring selection reductions under the Abortion Act. I am not sure that the amendment is technically viable because it refers to a miscarriage. A miscarriage is not an abortion and it is not a selective reduction or a stillbirth. When a woman has a miscarriage she loses her child. In a selective reduction, the child is left in the womb until birth occurs naturally of its surviving siblings. In the King's college baby case, there was selective reduction at 27 weeks for a mild form of handicap. One twin was allowed to live, but the other was killed in the womb by an injection of potassium chloride.
Column 11959 pm
I do not use, and have never used, the term "murder". I do not think that it is helpful to do so and it causes much guilt and grief for women who have had abortions. But when at 27 weeks one twin is allowed to survive and the other is deliberately killed with a lethal injection, I cannot think of another term to use.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : When I was carrying our first child I did not understand why my husband suddenly lost two stone in a fortnight. He did not tell me for many years that he had been told by the doctor that I was expecting one baby with two heads. In this day and age, those delightful children, who have twins of their own, would have been aborted.
information--although perhaps not as horrendous as that--by the medical profession, whose children go on to lead normal, healthy and fulfilled lives. That is a genuine error of the medical profession ; it never deliberately gives misinformation.
If selective reduction is to be governed by the Abortion Act, it will be made legal, even after viability has occurred. We now have no time limits, for example, for reductions for disability. Viable children in the womb could be killed quite legally. But that is not always done, even for serious or minor disability. When a woman discovers in the early stages that she is having a multiple birth--quite often these days, as a result of being overimplanted through IVF techniques ; the doctor creates the situation which he solves by selective reduction--how does she choose? If there is nothing wrong with them but there are simply too many, how does she choose? On the grounds of sex, hair colour, colour of eyes? What is the deliberate killing of children in those circumstances called? If that is to be called abortion, when it is not--it certainly is not a miscarriage--we are going down a dangerous path.
Amendment No. 29 gives the Secretary of State powers to enlarge the classes of premises that will be licensed. I believe that that is merely a paving measure--even if it is not intended as such--for self-administered home abortion.
Mr. Key : It has been brought to my attention that what my hon. Friend has just said appears in the whip issued by the pro-life group. That is not the intention and, quite inadvertently I am sure, my hon. Friend has been very misleading. When I spoke, for all of three minutes so that we could hear arguments from all hon. Members, in the cause of brevity I did not refer to amendment No. 29. My hon. Friend has been speaking for 30 minutes, and with the leave of the House I shall later seek to explain her misleading argument.
Miss Widdecombe : I shall take my hon. Friend's hint and begin to curtail my remarks. I said not that he had deliberately set out to create that, but that it would be the effect. If the Secretary of State is finally able to allow self-administered abortion at home, through RU486 or whatever else is developed, there will be legalised back-street abortions with precious little counselling or control. That will be the ultimate effect.
We are told that Scotland has never experienced any problems, despite not having the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. Scottish medical practice is governed by the
Column 1196General Medical Council and the ethics committee. Its ethics are based on English law. That point has been made by a number of Ministers in different circumstances. Now that the English law is being changed, there is no reason to suppose that there will not be very late abortions. If the amendment spoken to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East is passed, more disabled children will be born. The amendments that have already been agreed to will lead to an increase in the number of abortions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East admitted as much tonight, even though he may not have intended to do so.
The ILPA has resulted in the removal of legislation that has been on the statute book for many years. We shall be making a distinction, up to birth, between disabled and healthy children. If the other amendments are passed, they are likely to end up as home abortions and as selective reductions.
I apologise for addressing the House on the subject at such length, but it is important.
Several Hon. Members rose--